Meeting Tim Rutherford-Johnson

We’re completely delighted to welcome Tim to our artistic board. As well as composing poetic and illuminating programme notes to our concerts, Tim brings an academic slant to our programming as well as a keen contextual eye on our activities within a wider contemporary scene.

Tim has just published (with University of California Press) ‘Music after the Fall’ – the first detailed survey of western art music in the post-Cold War era. He is also the editor for ‘Sounds Like Now’ – a brand new independent magazine devoted to contemporary classical music which launches its first issue in May. You can also follow his highly regarded blog here.

Alex Ross has called Tim ‘probably the most authoritative international chronicler of the composed music of our time’.

Pretty impressive stuff, we think you’ll agree. But how will he fare with the really big questions, such as ‘favourite 007’ or ‘mayonnaise or salad cream’? You can find out below …

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In what ways have you Rioted so far?
I’m the group’s in-house writer; so far I’ve written notes to four Riot concerts, with more to come. As a new member of the artistic board I’ve also thrown in a few Riotous programming suggestions.
Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?
Oh, I was a proper nerd – books, science, music, the lot.
Favourite musician?
Toss-up between Olivier Messiaen and Kim Gordon.
Favourite performance venue?
Anything off the beaten track: small rooms in the back of pubs, that sort of thing. Hawksmoor’s churches in London are always special places to listen too.
People have said this about me …
“That T-shirt makes you look pregnant.” – my daughter.
Strictly or X Factor?
Bake Off.
The best 007 is …
Roger Moore is the most fun, but Daniel Craig has made the better films. I wish they’d had the courage to make Skyfall the last Bond; that was a perfect ending.
Salad cream or mayonnaise?
Mayo. With chips.
I would most like to Riot about …
Arts funding. Inequality. The environment.
Many thanks, Tim!

A few moments with Anna Thorvaldsdottir

We hugely enjoyed performing Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s piece ‘Shades of Silence’ during our last concert in Brixton, so we’re immensely looking forward to presenting her ‘Ró’ on March 3rd at The Warehouse, Waterloo. Anna is commissioned and performed all over the world, so we’re really grateful to her for taking time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions. Read her interview below, and check out her website here.

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You’re an Icelandic composer but you’ve studied in the U.S. and now you live in London. Where do you think your artistic heart lies?

Well, I can’t say I feel that my artistic heart belongs to a geographical place per se – for me it is much more of an inner search for a soundworld. It is very precious to be inspired by different places but I don’t feel that the places I stay in, or live in, bound me or define me artistically. But I will of course always be Icelandic because that is where my roots lie.

We have been working on two of your pieces: ‘Shades of Silence’ and ‘Ró’. These are scored for wildly different ensembles. Can you give us a flavour of the soundworld you’re creating in each piece?

It is always important to me to listen to what the music wants and needs each time, and this often depends on the instrumentation of course and sometimes the occasion for which the piece is written. But my soundworlds are always born from the same inwards place in a sense although they are of course different for each piece. The characteristics of Shades of Silence are for example inspired by the airy and light notion of baroque string instruments because the piece was initially commissioned by an ensemble that performs on baroque instruments, so the lightly pulsating characteristics of the piece are inspired by that. And was inspired by a search for calm through various musical means which are carried by a stream of harmony and sound materials that are born from various attacks on the larger and smaller scale within the piece.

You’re very well known for your huge orchestral landscapes. Do you feel more at home in a symphonic medium than writing for smaller forces?

I very much enjoy writing for larger forces and orchestras and playing with the colors of many instruments has always been a very big and a natural passion for me. My musical voice tends to be geared towards instrumentations that have the capabilities to create sound structures and sustained harmonies, and there are of course many variations of smaller instrumentations that can very well do that which I very much enjoy writing for as well and feel at home within. But writing for the orchestra is always a special treat and a big passion of mine.

I see you’ve got performances in Vancouver and Paris in the same month as our concerts. Are you at home with travelling as much as your music is?

I travel very much for my music but the music is being performed very often and quite widely so I am not able to attend all performances, but I try to attend the largest performances and premieres the best I can.

Do you think Iceland will beat England at football next time they meet?

Probably not :)

We’ll see … Many thanks, Anna!

A few moments with Oliver Brignall

A couple weeks ago, we spent two days at Brunel University workshopping a scene Oliver Brignall’s new opera Palace of Junk.  

Palace of Junk

The multi-media opera retells the terrifying tale of the Collyer Brothers (do not follow that link lightly!)  Oliver’s music is as beautiful and haunting as the story, and we’re really excited to premiere this scene at Mahogany Opera Groups Various Stages Festival on 24th February.  We got to ask Oliver a few questions about the music in advance…

Hello Oliver, and thanks for answering these questions. The ensemble’s really enjoyed working with you on your new opera ‘Palace of Junk’. How’s the collaboration been from your perspective?

Hi! It’s been an enormous pleasure to collaborate with Riot again; I’ve been working on the opera for over a year, so as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty nervous (but excited) to finally get the full ensemble together in a room!

Scene 4 - Homer & Langley

Page 1 of Oliver’s Score

I was blown away with everyone’s commitment to the piece. The entire opera is to be performed without a conductor, with all direction coming from within the ensemble so on the surface the score could potentially be quite daunting, especially as it is written in a sort of hybrid of traditional notation and a more free time/space notation. It was great having Aaron on hand to direct the rehearsals, helping with the initial navigation of the piece and offering some rehearsal pointers. It was also fantastic to be able to workshop different ideas with all involved, resulting in some important yet necessary changes being made to the scene.

You combine your composing work with performance work as a professional tenor. Does this practical experience inform or change the way you write music?

I feel that they have both influenced each other in different ways. I guess most importantly, despite my continuing compositional interest in ‘music on the edge’, the borderline between sound and silence for example, my experiences as a performer have ensured that the notes on the page are presented as clearly and idiomatically as possible, even if asking for something on the border of the realms of possibility.

My taste in performers and performance style, informed by my own experiences as a professional singer, has also been influenced by and continues to influence my music. I am increasingly less interested in this idea of perfect ‘studio quality’ live performances, much preferring the excitement of a voice or instrumentalist on the edge. Many of my favourite singers, golden age superstars such as Mario Del Monaco sang in a way that was so utterly thrilling yet so far removed from modern ideas of a ‘safe’ performance. Consequently, in performance sometimes it worked sometimes it was less successful. I take huge amounts of inspiration from this kind of sound, using it as a base level for most of my work in an attempt to create a resulting style that is consistently inconsistent and celebrates the act of performing over a clinical precision led style.

You’ve chosen to set the true and rather sad tale of the Collyer brothers who famously filled their Manhattan abode with all manner of (un)collectables. However, your score is quite the opposite of cluttered. Can you give us a window into your compositional processes?

One of the first things to strike me about the story of the Collyer brothers was just how much music they must have had in their lives. Amongst the belongings removed from the house were literally tonnes of musical detritus including 14 grand pianos (represented in the opera electronically – a live, constantly reacting series of piano related resonances and cascades), countless instruments and piles and plies of sheet music and records, there was also an apocryphal story that their mother was a society singer.

The harmonic language of the whole opera is based on the musical items found in the house (Bessie Smith records, Sheet music for Chopin’s Etudes etc) creating a kind of collection of musical items from which the piece is built. Rather than cluttered with a patchwork of gestural musical ideas, the sound leans more towards a spectral style, with timbral and homophonic elements as a musical centre. I imagine that the end result of the electronics together with the spectral nature of the harmony might suggest an idea of claustrophobia but it’s not an intentionally explicit part of the work.

In terms of the score, as mentioned briefly above, I try and keep the presentation on the page as clear as possible. The score leans slightly in the direction of tablature, with the (often noisy and unpredictable) resultant sound rarely reflected in the written notes. I hope that the writing on the page however, suggests both a musical direction and a physical intention for the performer.

Mahogony Opera Group’s ‘Various Stages’ Festival on February 24th showcases work by a range of composers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 1-8pm. Can you give us a flavour of what to expect?

 This is an unbelievably exciting festival. There are six showcased pieces in total (four, like this selected from an open call) hugely varied in scope and style. Whilst I feel unbelievable privileged to be involved – I’m also super excited to see and hear everything else that will be put on!

So, do you share any personality traits with the Collyers? For example, are you an obsessive hoarder?

Haha! Yes, good question! I’m sure artists of all kinds will agree that they are somewhere on the spectrum of obsessiveness. I’d be the first to admit that I have an extremely obsessive nature and it was definitely something that I wanted to look at with this piece.

I’m no hoarder per se but I have a weakness for records and CD’s, making any record shop my first port of call whenever I travel! As a result, they take up a pretty huge portion of my house. Arranged alphabetically, chronologically and by genre of course…

Do you live in semi-seclusion?

A city boy through and through!

Have you booby-trapped your house?

 Come for tea and find out?!

Many thanks, Ollie (we think … )!

 

A few moments with Heather Stebbins

The ensemble is currently hard at work at Real World Studios, and tonight we will be recording Heather Stebbins’ miniature written especially for our two pianists Claudia Racovicean and Adam Swayne. ‘Ursa Minor’ is a beautiful and semi-improvisatory piece featuring some extraordinary sounds that we can’t wait to get ‘in the can’! Find out more about Heather on her website and have a read of an interview about her piece below.

View More: http://ginabrocker.pass.us/heathermikeandelliottoctober2016

‘Ursa Minor’ for piano … are you a stargazer?
Not in any formal sense. Like most children, I was very curious about space and astronomy as a kid. I grew up in a rural area and the lack of light pollution allowed for great views of the stars, planets, and constellations with both the naked eye and my uncle’s telescope. Since moving to the ‘big city’ I haven’t had much opportunity to star gaze, but I still like to look upwards. In this piece, I was inspired by the idea of connecting elements to make new shapes, such as in a constellation.

Your piece involves a crystal ball, metal knitting needles, hairpins, and aluminium foil. Can you describe how you use these things, and can you put into words what they will sound like?
Normally when I compose and want to use some non-traditional element, such as hairpins, I try to limit myself to just a few uses so that things don’t get too unwieldy. For some reason, I did the exact opposite for this miniature! I use these elements to exploit the piano’s delicate and metallic persona. The crystal ball creates a very special sound. A dear friend, Spanish pianist and improvisor Hara Alonso (who is doing some really amazing projects), showed me this technique and I fell in love with the sound world. The hairpins and knitting needles come from my own experimentations with the piano and objects I had lying around. The aluminium foil provides a quiet, unpredictable texture. I am attracted to tiny and delicate sounds – I love the sound of slowly crumpling aluminium foil and you really can’t replicate that with any instrumental sound!

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Can you tell us what else you are working on at the moment?
I recently finished a piece for ensemble and electronics for Colorado-based Nebula Ensemble (so many space references!). I’m starting a new project for trombone (and most likely electronic devices) for NYC-based trombonist Will Lang. Will plays with the ensemble loadbang and is a great champion of new works. I’m really excited to be working with him again.

Thanks so much, Heather!

Talking Toy Pianos

IMG_3697At our session at Real World Studios this week we are recording super works for toy piano(s) by composers Monica Pearce and Thomas Kotcheff. Here they answer Adam’s questions about their intimacies with these dinky noise-makers, embracing sonics, tonics and politics …

You are both seasoned ambassadors for the toy piano. Please can you describe your activities to date?

MP: It’s an anniversary year for me and my toy piano – I met this Schoenhut 3-octave number ten years ago in July off an ad on Craigslist. It’s been a wild adventure ever since – I’ve written almost a dozen pieces with toy piano since then. One piece in particular – clangor for toy piano and bicycle bells, written for Queen of the Toy Piano Margaret Leng Tan – has at this point travelled internationally more than I have, making stops in Singapore, Australia, U.S., and Canada! My interest in toy pianos has led me to some very unique projects – last year I wrote a duet for toy piano and tabla (with the remarkable duo of Xenia Pestova and Shawn Mativetsky), and this year I’ll be writing a quartet for two toy pianos and two percussionists for the Atlanta-based ensemble Chamber Cartel. When I’m not tickling the plastics, you can find me writing chamber operas, chamber music or educational music.

unnamedTK: I am a founding member of the Los Angeles based piano duo HOCKET and we love to perform music for toy pianos. Our repertoire ranges from toy piano classics by John Cage to newly commissioned works written for our ensemble (including a terrific piece by Riot Ensemble’s artistic director Aaron Holloway-Nahum). As a piano duo, we love the mobility that performing on toy pianos offers us (performing in art galleries, bars, outdoors, etc.) and both myself and my partner in HOCKET continue to compose, arrange, and commission new works for these instruments.

What initially attracted you to the distinctive sound of the toy piano?

TK: I’ve always seen the toy piano as the quirky combination of a harpsichord and a glockenspiel with the distinct feature that every toy piano has their own unique tuning. The fact that no two toy pianos can be in tune with one another is exploited in death, hocket, and roll by having the two toy pianos trading identically voiced major chords back and forth. Major chords on the toy piano also always reminded me of what an old-fashioned slot machine sounds like when you win and the machine is paying out — I tried to capture this slot-machine sound world throughout death, hocket, and roll and especially so in the coda of the piece.

IMG_0861MP: I loved the sound – the bell-like timbre with its bizarre overtones. I love that its sound exists in some other dimension that mixes an out-of-tune pitch with a very percussive clack. I think it’s an instrument that can be incredibly fruitful for composers to get outside of their comfort zones and really stretch their imaginations, especially if they can get over the mindset of it being a mini-piano or only suitable for writing creepy children’s music.

Riot Ensemble is recording a piece by each of you. To my ears both your pieces seem to mix a transparent sense of tonality with more chromatic flights of fancy. Is this a response to the instrument or a more general theme in your musical language?  

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MP: I would say this piece certainly fits within my musical language but it’s most directly inspired by Kandinsky. I took a marvellous quote from Wassily Kandinsky which deals with colour as a musical metaphor: “Each colour lives by its mysterious life. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. Everything starts with a dot.” Kandinsky’s artworks are so vibrant and dynamic, and I wanted to try and create a musical environment which was both calculated and completely excitable. The soprano also plays a wine glass drone throughout which gives a somewhat false sense of stability and creates unusual harmonic interactions with the toy piano. I am certainly prone to doing certain gestures on the toy piano, such as fast pointillistic patterns and repeated notes – I adore the resonance created by those types of gestures.

TK: In the music I’ve written in the last few years, juxtaposing vanilla major and minor chords against chromaticism, noise, and harsh dissonance has been a focus of my music. I’ve always been interested in the idea of “bad taste” in music and looking for ways to exploit that as an aesthetic. The idea of blatantly putting major and minor chords up against dissonant material seems like it would be in poor taste, but if a piece becomes oversaturated with poor taste, for me it slowly begins to emerge out the other side to become something new and worth exploring.

Perhaps a little piano is best played with little hands? Would you be happy, for example, for President Trump to give a recital on your toy piano?

TK: It would be fitting for a toy president to perform on a toy piano and he would certainly do less damage that way. However, I fear that President Trump wouldn’t be able to figure out how to play the instrument despite it being originally designed for children.

MP: Well all I can say is – music unifies, and requires that people listen and consider multiple perspectives. So, perhaps President Trump could use more of a music education to add to his personal growth. Meanwhile I’m just going to build this tiny wall around my toy piano.
What does President Trump think of that?
Trump Tweet
Many thanks Monica and Thomas! Together you sure make the toy piano great again!

 

A few moments with Utku Asuroglu

We give the U.K. première of Utku’s Hayirli Olsun at our concert on February 16th at Brixton East 1871, 7.30pm. Find out more about him on his website, and read his thoughts on composing, conducting and his Turkish heritage in our interview below!

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Your musical studies and career have taken you from Turkey all across Europe. Did anywhere in particular steal your artistic heart?
The years I spent in Graz, Austria were the most valuable and important in my artistic life as a composer. The rich culture of Austria and my professor, Clemens Gadenstätter had a huge impact on me.
Does your conducting work inform the way you compose music?
Of course. My experiences in conducting greatly developed my inner hearing, my understanding of orchestration, and understanding of the psychology of the performers behind the music.
This piece features a prominent part for harpsichord (performed by our very own Goska Isphording). What attracted you to this particular instrument together with the unusual combination of piano, percussion and trombone?
The harpsichord is an instrument whose presence I truly miss in contemporary music. When used creatively, harpsichord adds extremely unique colours and expressive possibilities to any instrumentation. Dutillieux’s Les Citations [performed by Riot Ensemble in 2014!] or Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord are wonderful works that prove my point. I wanted to contrast harpsichord with another keyboard instrument, and I tried to underline their percussive quality with percussion and their expressive ability using the trombone.
Your programme note mentions the Sivas Massacre of 1993. Have you addressed these horrific events in music, and if so then how?
My music mostly lacks any programmatic content. However, non-musical influences have always proven to be strong points of departure for my compositions. The word non-musical sounds very unjust to me, for I can’t isolate music from literature or architecture.
The Sivas Massacre was a horrible hate crime against critical and creative minds of Turkey. Even though I was just a kid in 1993, I have read a lot about it ever since and its impact is still present in my life. I don’t think it’s possible to address how I used these impressions in this particular piece, and I believe this is the very unique thing about music; it defies being described with words.
Can you tell us more about your future plans?
I’m working on an ensemble piece that’s going to be premiered by International Ensemble Modern Academy in the Gaudeamus Music Week 2017. I will also be busy with a chamber opera project with Marcel Beekman in the Netherlands. We are still working on the libretto. Working with artists from different disciplines motivates and inspires me. I am very much looking forward to hearing and seeing the resulting work on the stage.
Many thanks, Utku!

A few moments with Michael Cryne

We are hugely looking forward to giving the premiere of Michael Cryne‘s five-movement work Celia’s Toyshop at our concert on February 16th at Brixton East 1871, 7.30pm.

Michael lives and works in London and is currently pursuing doctoral study in composition under the supervision of Mark Bowden and Helen Grime at Royal Holloway, University of London, having previously studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

In this short interview Michael discusses his work with Adam and whets all of our appetites. We hope to see a great crowd on February 16th!

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Welcome Michael, and thank you for giving Riot Ensemble the premiere of your piece ‘Celia’s Toyshop’. I believe there’s a special dedicatee in the title?!

 

Thanks Adam, I’m hugely excited. This will be a really special one for me. As you’ve mentioned, the collection of pieces were written for my daughter Celia. I’ve been writing them on and off in between other things. She won’t make it to the premiere, she’s only 2, and generally prefers youtube videos of people opening shiny things.

 

Your piece is for ‘Pierrot ensemble plus percussion’. Has Schoenberg influenced any other aspects other than the instrumentation? 

 

Oh, I use post-serial techniques all the time, so in that sense absolutely. ‘Puzzle Book’ uses a ciphered version of Celia’s full name as a tone-row, for example.

 

There are five movements with really imaginative titles such as ‘Clockwork Nightingale’ and ‘Neon Butterflies’. Are you telling some (famous) stories in your piece, or are you just encouraging imaginative listening?

 

Well, ‘Clockwork Nightingale’ is a combination of a birdsong transcription and a mechanistic rhythmic pattern, so the title in that instance shaped elements of the piece. Whereas ‘Neon Butterflies’ was just a youtube video we were watching together. But yeah, ‘imaginative listening’  is a nice way of putting it. I don’t think any of the pieces tell stories in a programmatic sense.

 

So what’s the first note?

 

 

What’s the last note?

 

A

 

And what’s the best bit?!

 

I really like ‘Marionettes’. It’s a quirky little dance, inspired by the jerky movements of puppets.

 

In 2017 Michael Cryne is also …

 

… currently working on a piece for Manchester-based ensemble Psappha, for solo alto flute and electronics. We’re recording that in April.

And if you happen to be coming to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s composers day on Saturday 18th Febraury, I’ll be presenting Celia’s Toyshop there with Kokoro, their new music ensemble. 

 

Many thanks Michael!

 

Meeting Ausiàs Garrigós Morant

It’s been quite a year at Riot HQ. Aaron had to buy a new sofa in order to squeeze in all our new members of the artistic board. (Maybe I’ll pop a picture of the sofa up on instagram.) Our final ‘unveiling’ of the year is the astonishing clarinetist Ausiàs Garrigós Morant. Ausiàs will be joining us at Cardiff University for our second performance of wonderful text scores by the late Pauline Oliveros on Tuesday April 4th at 7.30pm. You have to think quickly on your feet for those, and the same goes for these interview questions below (although don’t ask Ausiàs how long it took to answer them …).

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Welcome Ausiàs! Tell the ways in which you have Rioted so far …

Every day. Every morning. Against my alarm.

Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?

Tearaway. 100% impulsive.

Favourite musician?

Paquito d’Rivera has always been my musical (and clarinetist) hero and I would say one of the reasons why I play clarinet, too.

Favourite performance venue?

A half-improvised stage lost in the mountains of Sierra de Segura (Spain), a beautiful natural reserve that hosts a beautiful music festival – Musica en Segura.

People have said this about me …

‘Being as clumsy as you are, how is it possible that you have not dropped or broken your clarinets a thousand times?’ (By my mum – I still don’t know how!)

Strictly or X Factor?

Sorry, but this year, La Voz, the Spanish edition of The Voice, only because one of my best friends was in the final.

Salad cream or mayonnaise?

Mayonnaise (and french fries, and a touch of mustard, please).

I would most like to Riot about …

Climate change, and common sense – should they both not come together?

Meeting Louise McMonagle

Don’t double-take- this is not a magical christmas movie! It’s actually the amazing (and much more magical) Louise McMonagle. We’re so pleased to have Louise and her magnificent cello playing on our artistic board! Louise will be joining us at the recording sessions for our second album A Chest of Toys, which will be released in 2017. Take a peek at Louise’s website here, and find out where she stands on all the big issues of the day in our quick-fire interview below.

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In what ways have you Rioted so far?

In my first Riot Ensemble concert I had to play my cello with an electric razor. That was a riot.

Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?

Definitely the tearaway I’m afraid. Just ask any of my school teachers …

Favourite musician?

Impossible question but I’ll go with Truls Mork, due to the sheer hours I clocked up listening to him when I was getting into the cello.

Favourite performance venue?

Royal Opera House – I love the theatre atmosphere.

People have said this about me …

“She wears a lot of yellow.”

Strictly or X Factor?

Neither … but at a push, Strictly.

The best 007 is …

Daniel Craig!

Salad cream or mayonnaise?

Both are food hell for me.

I would most like to Riot about …

… where to start …

Meeting Andy Connington

We’re chuffed to bits to welcome fabulous trombonist Andy to our artistic board. Our first concert of 2017 features Andy playing alongside Goska Isphording (harpsichord), Sarah Mason (percussion) and Adam Swayne (piano) in the UK Premiere of Utku Asuroglu’s Hayirli Olsun. Come along to Brixton East 1871 at 7.30pm on Thursday February 16th! In the meantime, find out more about Andy in our quick question/answer below, and visit his website for more …riot_andy

In what ways have you Rioted so far?

I have Rioted a few times – the first time at The Forge playing trombone quartets, then a few scenes from Aaron’s new opera ‘The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst‘ and then last April in Djuro Zivkovic’s On the Guarding of the Heart.

Teenage tearaway, or nerdy note-learner?

I want to say teenage tearaway but nerdy note-learner would be more correct! At school I always practised when I felt like it, which meant quite often neglecting the homework …

Favourite musician?

I don’t have a favourite musician, but I have some favourite orchestras amongst the usual suspects – Berlin Phil, Vienna Phil, Chicago SO, LSO …

Favourite performance venue?

I spend quite a lot of time working in pits, so I’m normally very happy when I get to play anywhere with some space and a nice acoustic! In the UK, my favourite halls are Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and Symphony Hall in Birmingham. I’m a huge fan of the continental rectangular halls, but unfortunately I’ve only had a chance to play in the Herkulessaal in Munich. The Kölner Philharmonie is also quite an interesting hall.

People have said this about me …

I’m not sure anyone has really talked much about me! Trombonists don’t usually get noticed, but I have had the following mentions in reviews:

“the trombone solo – heroically executed by Andrew Connington …”

“special mention must go to trombonist Andrew Connington for his frolics in the paddling pool …”

“Andrew Connington’s plummy, rasping gusto was infectious …”

Salad cream or mayonnaise?

Neither! Would rather make my own vinaigrette!

As long as it’s not plummy or infectious (or in a paddling pool) that sounds delicious. Thank you Andy, and we look forward to seeing/hearing you in February!